New Twists on Baklava Will Change the Way You See This Classic Dessert

Bars are just the beginning. Creative bakers are introducing the world to a new wave of baklava-inspired treats, including sundaes, cookies, and cocktails.

Turkish dessert baklava
Photo: Natasha Breen / Getty Images

No matter how full I am, there are some desserts that I can always make room for. My Mom’s snickerdoodle cookies (preferably fresh from the oven). A slice of cream cheese–frosted carrot cake. A soft-serve ice cream cone, especially on a warm day. And a sweet and nutty slice of baklava. 

That last dessert has become one of my favorite ways to cap off a meal ever since I first tried them at a local Lebanese restaurant about 10 years ago. I’ve been familiar with, and a fan of, baklava bars since that day. But earlier this year, during a trip to New York City, I was reminded of its awesomeness through some creative variations on the theme.

Just as 2023 appears to be poised to become the year of the Hugo Spritz, it also seems to be prime time for a baklava renaissance—especially considering the fact that pistachio is the standout flavor of the year.

What Is Baklava?

The origins of this nutty, sweet, warmly spiced, and layered phyllo dough dessert are a bit unclear; baklava recipes have been passed down for generations all across the Middle East. 

Turkish baklava is typically made with pistachios and walnuts and drizzled with a sugar syrup after baking. Lebanese baklava often features walnuts, a honey syrup, and occasionally a splash of orange blossom or rose water. Israeli baklava usually includes a mix of pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds, plus a citrus-infused syrup, cloves, and cinnamon. In Greece, classic baklava is made with 31 layers of phyllo dough to represent the 31 years of Jesus’s life. 

Since baklava is truly a labor of love to produce—thanks to all those layers of dough, nuts, and spices—it's often served at special religious occasions, including Eid ul-Fitr (the end of Ramadan) for Muslims and Christmas for Christians. 

I adore DIY classic baklava recipes like Greek Baklava Bars, Pistachio-Cranberry Baklava, and Peanut Baklava, but can’t reserve them for just holidays alone. So to fill in the gaps, I’ve often turned to shortcut recipes from the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen, like Shortcut Baklava Tassies and Baklava Monkey Bread. Featuring similar flavors in a less time-intensive format has inspired me to expand my definition of “baklava desserts.” 

Greek Baklava Bars
Jason Donnelly

A New Generation of Baklava Desserts

On a recent trip to New York City, I discovered two female-owned brands that are putting their own thoroughly modern spin on the baklava theme. 

Einat Admony, chef/owner of Balaboosta in New York City and co-author of Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking, won me and my dining companions over with her Balaboosta’s Baklava, a fried baklava ice cream dessert. After swooning over this unique baklava recipe, I couldn’t resist reaching out to Admony to learn more about its origins. Turns out, this is the latest in a long series of nutty delights at the West Village Israeli restaurant.

“Balaboosta has been offering a variety of baklava-themed desserts for over 8 years now! I'm absolutely obsessed with pistachios, and baklava uses the ingredient so well. I love that there’s a wide range of possibilities for flavors and sweetness with baklava,” Admony tells BHG.

Anyone can put their own stamp on the dessert if they desire, she continues: “Like anything in the kitchen, you can trace a great product back to its components. If you want to reinvent something, let the ingredients meet each other in a new way. With baklava, beautifully spiced nuts and quality honey will lead the way.”

The idea for this fan-favorite Baklava Ice Cream was originally presented as a joke. One of Balaboosta’s cooks suggested that they try frying baklava, a concept Admony wasn’t immediately sold on. But after allowing the idea to marinate for a few years, and being introduced to “a beautiful pistachio ice cream from il laboratorio de gelato, I came up with the fried ice cream concept: phyllo-wrapped pistachio ice cream rolled in spiced nuts that is fried until golden, and served in an infused honey sauce,” Admony says.

Later that weekend, I was blown away by the variety of baklava delights available from Lena Derisavifard, chef and owner of BiBi Bakery in Brooklyn—especially one remix that was a savvy way to reduce food waste at her one-year-old bakery that highlights Iranian flavors and culture. BiBi Bakery also takes online orders for pick up and delivery in the New York City area, and pops up at Smorgasbug in Williamsburg and Prospect Park every weekend. (I was initially introduced to her brand at a table at the Cherry Bombe Jubilee conference.)

Derisavifard tells us that each recipe is a nod to the matriarchs of her Middle Eastern family. (In Persian cultures, BiBi is a term of respect used for older women, such as aunts, grandmas, or great grandmas.)

“We’re committed to sharing and celebrating my heritage through food and challenging single-story narratives of the Middle East one bite at a time,” she explains.

Baklava Ice Cream Sandwich
BiBi Bakery Baklava Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich.

Sima Jafari

A modern spin on Derisavifard’s great grandma's baklava (the woman she called "BiBi") is the best-seller. The bakery offers it in a rotating mix of flavors and styles, including spiced walnut, vegan cardamom rose, vegan coconut almond, chocolate hazelnut, pecan pepita, PB&J, pistachio, and date walnut. BiBi Bakery also whips up bread, rolls, cakes, cookies, and ice creams. 

Those last two items are the ones that caught my eye, because BiBi Bakery’s cookies and ice cream actually feature scraps of the best-selling baklava. 

“When cutting my trays of baklava, I cut a small perimeter around the edges of the tray to get a clean slice. I try my best to avoid food waste, so I save the edges that aren’t used,” Derisavifard explains. “My freezer was packed to the brim with baklava edges, so I started recipe testing a few things to incorporate the edges into other products. Our BiBi cookie has become a crowd favorite!”

For this cookie, BiBi bakers take the edges of the spiced walnut baklava and transform it into cookie dough. The result is crunchy on the edges and chewy in the middle, Derisavifard says (which I confirm!).

For the baklava ice cream, Derisavifard and her team fold chunks of baklava into ice cream. Savor this by the scoop or tucked inside two BiBi cookies for a next-level ice cream sandwich.

If you, too, are feeling inspired to refresh your baklava routine, Derisavifard offered a couple extra ideas for transforming baklava scraps into something totally new. Crumble pieces to use as a topping for ice cream, yogurt, oatmeal or granola, or pulse the scraps in a food processor to use as a graham cracker piecrust alternative.

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